HOMOSASSA — Port Citrus isn’t drained of life just yet.

County Commissioner Scott Carnahan, who voted with the majority in January to dismantle Port Citrus and remove it from the state list of ports, said during a Thursday goal-setting workshop that the port should stay, but without a dime of public money.

Carnahan said the very existence of Port Citrus on the state map of ports opens Citrus County to transportation funds it wouldn’t receive without a port.

“It’s just something in the toolbox,” Carnahan said.

Commissioners Dennis Damato and Joe Meek, who supported Port Citrus from its inception in 2011, acknowledged the poor handling of the project on the county’s behalf but agreed with Carnahan that keeping the designation on the Cross Florida Barge Canal made sense.

“How can we somehow leverage that ... to our advantage?” Meek said. 

Damato said if the Suncoast Parkway 2 is extended as part of the Interstate 75 reliever plan, it expects an exit on Power Line Road, which heads into the Duke Energy Complex. He said industrial uses in the area suggest port-type uses on the barge canal.

Board Chairman Ron Kitchen Jr., who voted with Carnahan and Commissioner Scott Adams in January to dissolve the port and port authority, said he believes Carnahan’s suggestion requires further discussion.

“The issue has always been about public support,” Kitchen said.

Adams did not attend Thursday’s workshop.

The county commission created Port Citrus in 2011 and paid a lobbyist to convince legislators to include it on the list of Florida ports. After the 2014 election, which vaulted Carnahan and Kitchen to office, the board voted to dismantle the port authority and ask the Legislature to remove the Port Citrus designation.

In September, then-Chairman Adams told the Citrus legislative delegation of Sen. Charlie Dean and Rep. Jimmie T. Smith, both R-Inverness, that one of the county’s top priorities was removing Port Citrus from the state’s port list.

So far, neither Dean nor Smith has filed legislation to do that. Smith said Thursday he is waiting for documentation from the county to file a local bill.

Carnahan said he changed his mind about the Port Citrus designation after speaking with people who told him the benefits of keeping Port Citrus — even if only as a star on the map.

He said transportation and economic funding for projects in northwest Citrus might have a better chance of funding because of the Port Citrus designation on the barge canal.

Josh Wooten, president and CEO of the Citrus County Chamber of Commerce, agreed. Wooten said in an interview Thursday that the designation carries weight even though the port is not developed.

“That star sitting there on the map hurts absolutely nothing and has potential to help,” he said.

Kitchen said he doesn’t want Citrus to send the impression that it has a working port when it doesn’t.

“I have this sensitivity about false advertising,” he said. “Does that go against our integrity?”

Carnahan said he plans to discuss the issue with County Administrator Randy Oliver and possibly bringing it back to the county commission at a future meeting. He reiterated that he does not support public funding of the port or reviving the Port Authority.

Commissioners discussed many other goals at Thursday’s workshop, including:

* The board wants to develop code and building standards to remove blight from along county roadways. Damato specifically mentioned an abandoned gas station property at the corner of State Road 44 and County Road 486. He said the county should have the mechanism to remove unsightly property and then place the cost on the property owner’s tax bill to pay for it.

* To that extent, commissioners discussed loosening requirements for new owners who want to rehabilitate aged or unsightly structures.

* Board members want codes and building standards for new nonresidential development, such as standalone stores and shopping centers. Carnahan said he noticed Dollar General stores in south Georgia have landscaping and other amenities to spruce up the sites that Citrus does not now require.

* Commissioners said they wanted Citrus to be a shining example of how to do things right. With the county’s natural resources, trail system, Gulf of Mexico, rivers, golf courses, lakes, the county should be able to market itself to potential homeowners.

“We have something by God’s grace we should highlight and focus on,” Meek said.

* To help partner with the Economic Development Authority of Citrus County, commissioners suggested the county hire an economic development liaison who would answer to the county administrator. The position’s salary and benefits could come from the county’s business tax fund.

* Commissioners said they should encourage cities, particularly Crystal River, to join the county on stormwater runoff projects. Runoff is considered a significant contributor to pollution in King’s Bay.

* The board said it needed a funding source for repaving neighborhood streets once the current funding runs out. Damato and Meek said that source may be a municipal services benefit unit, or MSBU.

Contact Chronicle reporter Mike Wright at 352-563-3228 or mwright@chronicleonline.com; or via Twitter @mwrightcitrus.

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